Inspirational Thoughts on Nature, Art & Beauty | Podcasts

Podcast Transcript: Welcome to the Inspirational Living podcast. I’d like to start today’s podcast by wishing our listeners in the United States a Happy Thanksgiving holiday. May we all take this time to reflect upon the many blessings in our lives and to rededicate ourselves to cultivating a daily attitude of gratitude and optimism.

Next week marks the 1 year anniversary of the launch of the Inspirational Living podcast, and I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to all of our subscribers, as well as everyone who has reached out to us to share the positive impact that this podcast has had on your life. Hearing your stories truly inspires us and the work we do.

I also want to extend a special thanks to Stuart Campbell and Krystal Baker, who have become new patrons of our podcast. It’s my personal goal in the coming year to dedicate myself full time to the Inspirational Living podcast, eventually expanding our schedule to daily episodes. But to do that, I will need your help. If you would like to support us and become a patron, you can do so for as little as $1 a month. Simply visit our podcast website at Podcast.LivingHour.org, and click on the Patron banner that you see on the right.

Now, let’s get started with today’s reading, which is dedicated to the memory of the artist Wayne Trapp, a dear friend who recently passed away at his home in North Carolina. This reading has been edited and adapted from the book Practical Ethics, by William De Witt Hyde, published in 1892.

The love of nature, like all love, cannot be forced. It is not directly under the control of our will. We cannot set about it in deliberate fashion, like we set about earning a living. Still it can be cultivated. We can place ourselves in contact with Nature’s more impressive aspects. We can go away by ourselves; stroll through the woods; watch the clouds; bask in the sunshine; brave the storm; listen to the notes of birds; find out the haunts of living creatures; learn the times and places in which to find the flowers, gaze upon the glowing sunset, and look up into the starry skies.

If we thus keep close to Nature, she will draw us to herself, and whisper to us more and more of her hidden meaning. The eye — it cannot choose but see; we cannot bid the year be still: our bodies feel, wherever they be: against or with our will. Nor less I deem that there are powers which of themselves our minds impress; that we can feed these minds of ours in a wise receptiveness.

The more we feel of the beauty and significance of Nature, the more we become capable of feeling. And this capacity to feel the influences which Nature is constantly throwing around us is an indispensable element in noble and elevated character.

Our thoughts, our acts (yes, our very forms and features), reflect the objects which we habitually welcome to our minds and hearts. And if we are to have these expressions of ourselves noble and pure, we must drink constantly and deeply at Nature’s fountains of beauty and truth.

Through communion with the grandeur and majesty of Nature, our lives are lifted to loftier and purer heights than our unaided wills could ever gain. We grow into the likeness of that we love. We are transformed into the image of that which we contemplate and adore. We are thus made strong to resist the base temptations; patient to endure the petty vexations; brave to oppose the brutal injustices, of daily life.

This whole subject of the power of Nature to uplift and bless has been so exhaustively and beautifully expressed by Wordsworth that I should be obliged to quote him directly. In his beautiful lyrical ballad LINES WRITTEN A FEW MILES ABOVE TINTERN ABBEY Wordsworth writes:

Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; ’tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall ever prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings.
Therefore I am still
A lover of the meadows and the woods
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; well pleased to recognize
In Nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and the soul
Of all my moral being.

And yet, despite the beauty and truth of Wordsworth’s poetry, Nature is incomplete. She leaves us to provide for ourselves our clothing, shelter, and surroundings. Nature in her works throws out suggestions of beauty, rather than its perfect and complete embodiment. Her gold is embedded in the rock. Her creations are limited by the particular material and the narrow conditions which are at her disposal at a given time and place.

To seize the pure ideal of beauty which Nature suggests, but never quite realizes; to select from the universe of space and the eternity of time those materials and forms which are perfectly adapted to portray the ideal beauty; to clothe the abodes and the whole physical environment of humanity with that beauty which is suggested to us in sky and stream and field and flower; to present to us for perpetual contemplation the form and features of ideal manhood and womanhood; to hold before our imagination the deeds and devotions of brave men and women; to thrill our hearts with the victorious struggle of the hero and the death-defying passion of the lover — this is the mission and the significance of art.

Art is creative. The artist is a co-worker with the Divine. To our hands is committed the portion of the world which the universe has left unfinished — the immediate environment of humankind. We cannot live in the fields and woods like the insects and animals do. Art has for its purpose to make the rooms and houses and halls and streets and cities in which civilized people pass their days as beautiful and fair, as elevating and inspiring, as the fields and forests in which nature blooms.

More than that, art aims to fill these rooms and halls and streets of ours with forms and symbols which shall preserve, for our perpetual admiration and inspiration, all that is purest and noblest and sweetest in that long struggle of humanity up from its early uncivilized estate.

Beauty is the outward and visible sign of inward perfection, completeness, and harmony. In an object of beauty there is neither too little nor too much; nothing is out of place; nothing is without its contribution to the perfect whole. Each part is at once a means and end to every other — hence its perfect symmetry; its regular proportions; its strict conformity to law.

The human mind can find rest and satisfaction in nothing short of perfection; and consequently our hearts are never satisfied until they behold beauty, which is perfection’s crown and seal. Without it one of the deepest and divinest powers of our nature remains dwarfed, stifled, and repressed.

It is thus our duty to see to it that everything under our control is as beautiful as we can make it. The rooms we live in; the desk at which we work; the clothes we wear; the house we build; the pictures on our walls; the garden and grounds in which we walk and work; all must have some form or other. That form must be either beautiful or hideous; attractive or repulsive. It is our duty to pay attention to these things; to spend thought and labor, and such money as we can afford upon them, in order to make them minister to our delight.

Not in staring at great works of art which we have not yet learned to appreciate, but by attention to the beauty or ugliness of the familiar objects that we have about us and dwell with from day to day, we shall best cultivate that love of beauty which will ultimately make intelligible to us the true significance of the masterpieces of art.

Here as everywhere, to we that have more shall be given. We must serve beauty humbly and faithfully in the little things of daily life, if we will enjoy her treasures in the great galleries of the world. Beauty is a jealous mistress. If we trifle with her; if we fall in love with pretentious imitations and elaborate ornamentations which have no beauty in them, but are simply gotten up to sell; then the true and real beauty will never again suffer us to see her face. She will leave us to our idols: and our power to appreciate and admire true beauty will die out.

Fidelity to beauty requires that we have no more things than we can either use in our work, or enjoy in our rest. And these things that we do have must be either perfectly plain; or else the ornamentation about them must be something that expresses the genuine admiration and affection of our hearts.

A farmer’s kitchen is generally a much more attractive place than the living room; just because this law of simplicity is perfectly expressed in the one, and flagrantly violated in the other. The office of the lawyer and the business person, the study of the scholar, is not infrequently a more beautiful place, one in which a person feels more at home, than the more costly dining room.

What sort of things we shall have, and how many, cannot be determined for us by any general rule; still less by aping somebody else. In our housekeeping, as in everything else, we should begin with the few things that are absolutely essential; and then add decoration and ornament only so fast as we can find the means of gratifying cherished longings for forms of beauty which we have learned to admire and love.

“Simplicity of life,” says William Morris, “even the barest, is not a misery, but the very foundation of refinement: a sanded floor and whitewashed walls, the green trees, the flowery meads, the living waters outside. If you cannot learn to love real art, at least learn to hate sham art and reject it. If the real thing is not to be had, learn to do without it. If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

All of this leads to the refining influence of beauty. Devotion to art and beauty in simplicity and sincerity develops an ever increasing capacity for its enjoyment. As Keats, the master poet of pure beauty, tells us:

A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

The refining influence of the love of beauty draws us mysteriously and imperceptibly, but none the less powerfully, away from what is false in thought and in action; and develops a deep and lasting affinity for all that is true and good. The good, the true, and the beautiful are branches of a common root; members of a single whole: and if one of these members suffer, all the members suffer with it; and if one is honored, all are honored with it.

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